When Alberta outlawed the importation of alcohol in 1918, Emilio Picariello excavated a room under the Blairmore Hotel (which he owned) and dug a tunnel leading to the road so he could smuggle liquor directly into his cellar.
The Alberta Provincial Police set up checkpoints throughout Crowsnest Pass to search for illegal liquor, but Emilio had ways to avoid getting caught.
At times, he would load his vehicles with what appeared to be sacks of flour. The sacks on the outside of the car, which were most susceptible to being searched, contained actual flour, which threw officers off the trail of the liquor inside the sacks in the vehicle.
Though it was widely known he was a bootlegger, Emilio was respected in the community. He gave his sacks of decoy flour to needy families, bought $5,000 in victory bonds during the First World War, and contributed money to the families of coal miners who were on strike in 1918.
Things started to go downhill for Emilio in 1921, when he was fined $20 by the APP after officers found four barrels of alcohol in his warehouse.
In 1922, APP officers recovered a whopping 70 barrels of beer from a railway car. The bill of lading had Emilio’s name on it and he was subsequently fined $500.
Later that year, officers received a tip that Emilio’s son, Stefano, was bringing a carload of whiskey to Blairmore from Fernie. Police met him outside the Blairmore Hotel, but Stefano attempted to escape with the whiskey.
A chase began in Coleman, with Const. Stephen Lawson firing shots in an attempt to stop the car. One of the bullets struck Stefano in the hand, but he was not seriously injured. When word of his son’s injury made it to Emilio later that evening, he and his housekeeper, Florence Lassandro, confronted Const. Lawson in front of the APP barracks.
An argument ensued between the two bootleggers and the constable. Shots were fired, and Const. Lawson was killed in front of his young daughter.
It’s not known for certain whether it was Emilio or Florence who pulled the trigger and killed the constable, but both were eventually convicted of murder and hanged. Florence is the only woman to ever be hanged in Alberta.
The APP Barracks, restored a few years ago by the Crowsnest Historical Society, are open to the public. The exhibit can be explored by going to the Crowsnest Museum at 7701 18th Ave. in Coleman.
Here, you can explore where Const. Lawson lived, worked and was killed. You will learn more about Alberta’s Prohibition history and can decide for yourself who murdered the constable.